A Canadian Immigrant’s Story
Immigrant Circle Blog Star Series 1
I first came to Canada as a student several years ago. I had originally considered studying in the US, but my parents convinced me to study in Canada on account of how welcoming and warm Canadians are, and of their multicultural society. After a few years as a student in British Columbia, I qualified to immigrate under a federal program and became a permanent resident. Shortly after, I moved to Winnipeg, ready to settle and start my life as a permanent resident.
Contrary to what I expected, I experienced a big deal of cultural shock when I first moved to Canada. I think it came from all the little differences I didn’t expect. The bank services were a bit different, the health system was a bit different, the bus system was a bit different, the weather was a bit different, the people were VERY different and the food was VERY different. In hindsight, I wish I had known that I would experience cultural shock before getting here. I don’t think there is anything I could have done to avoid it, but I definitely could have understood it better.
While in school, I was relatively sheltered from the newcomer/immigrant experience as I lived on campus and devoted most of my time to my studies, but I did get to experience some of the difficult process of adapting and acclimatizing to a new culture. What helped me out the most was: (1) making new friends, and maintaining these friendships; (2) actively exploring the city. I challenged myself to visit places and try activities I normally wouldn’t. While some failed (hiking under the rain will never be my thing), I discovered new interests (curling is really fun); and (3) staying in close contact with people at home. We are fortunate to live in the age of Skype and FaceTime. I talked to my family once a week, and kept in touch with my friends from back home to keep myself sane. Google is also remarkably helpful, from helping me locate bus stops and walk-in clinics, to answering complex questions about Canadian culture and customs.
Moving to Winnipeg felt like immigrating all over again. Once again, I was in a completely new, unknown city, with no friends or acquaintances. Even though I was already used to Canadian culture and the “little things” that haunted me a few years before, there was a new dimension to my adaptation process: job search. I made the mistake many newcomers make, of assuming that the Canadian job market works the same as my country’s job market. I formatted my resume the way I did back home and looked for jobs the way I did back home. I did not get even one job interview for over a month and started freaking out. The usual job search stress was compounded by financial pressure, the loneliness of not knowing anyone here, and the questions this situation opened: am I ever going to work in Canada? Am I being discriminated? Is there something wrong with me?
At the place where I was volunteering, someone suggested receiving employment services, which helped me figure out everything I was doing wrong: the resume, the cover letter, the lack of understanding of the hidden job market. Volunteering, in my case, was my lifeline. It gave me the Canadian work experience I didn’t have, the job references, and eventually the contacts that led to good job opportunities. In terms of my personal life, I eventually remembered what made Vancouver enjoyable, and I repeated it in Winnipeg. I sought new friends by joining interesting groups; I visited the city and tried new things; I found new hobbies (board game nights!) and some “fails” (definitely not a country music fan). And I remained close to home, which now included a second “home”. I remain very close to my family, and stay in touch with my friends from back home and from BC.
The immigrant experience is definitely not for the faint of heart, but I would never change it for the world. It makes us become stronger, more resilient, and it turns us into better people, more versatile and rounded up, more accepting of others and of ourselves. My life is enriched by the culture of my new city (and my previous ‘new’ city), and that of the newcomers I have met throughout my journey. I am proud and fortunate to call Canada home.